How Literary Journals Select Short Story Award Nominations

Terena Bell
6 min readJan 7, 2022

A litmag editor shares how he chooses stories for Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction & Best of the Net

Unless they’re Lauren Groff or Joyce Carol Oates, short story writers tend not to receive lots of fanfare. Publication is often a triumph itself, with some literary journals accepting only one percent of submissions. When spring comes, though, we have a small chance at fame—or at least anthology publication. That’s when awards like the Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, Best American Experimental Writing, and others announce the foremost in fiction.

After a story is published, litmag editors take it and others ran that year. From these pieces, they choose their nominations. These stories join others from hundreds of journals, then the award chooses winners from there.

To better understand the way journals choose nominations, I interviewed Eric Scot Tryon, editor-in-chief of Flash Frog, an online litmag that publishes one new short story every week. Eric is also a writer whose fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Monkeybicycle, and others.

Eric Scot Tryon, Flash Frog Editor-in-Chief

So tell me, Eric: How does Flash Frog choose nominations?

Oh my, this is excruciatingly difficult! [Last year, Flash Frog received 2,349 submissions and accepted 57.] That means we really fall in love with and believe in every single story we publish! And then trying to choose again between them…it’s like being forced to pick a favorite child (luckily I only have one, so she always wins!).

There are a couple, small circumstances that help. [While most awards take nominations through December for stories published that calendar year,] Best of the Net is the only one with odd timing. [It accepts nominations in September for pieces published by July.] And of course Best Microfiction has a 400 word limit so that cut the possible pool in half for me.

Otherwise, it’s a lot of going with your gut, what really resonated the most, and trying to put together a variety of styles because you never know what [the judges are] looking for, maybe leaning towards…

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Terena Bell

Reporter & fiction writer; series editor, Writing Through the Classics; short story editor for hire; sponsor more writing here: buymeacoffee.com/terenabell